Matthew Sherry at the Emirates Durham ICG
Ian Bell is delighted to have put his early-career struggles against Australia “to bed” as he embarks upon a volume of Ashes scoring that will be forever remembered.
Tackling a bowling attack featuring greats such as Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath proved a challenge too far in his early career, epitomised by Bell’s first century against Australia coming in his 15th Ashes match.
He is having no such issue in the Investec series, however, having today hit a third in the rubber to leave England in position to complete a series victory.
The Warwickshire man struck 105 not out, following up his 109s at Trent Bridge and Lord’s – efforts that helped earn wins in those Tests.
He insists he has not yet considered the fact his efforts are worthy of a place in Ashes folklore, but admits it is nice to deliver in cricket’s greatest contest.
“I haven’t thought of it like that,” he said. “It’s just nice to contribute. For us as a group we want to win the Ashes.
“We’ve done decently so far and tomorrow is a massive day for us. I haven’t thought too much about that. There will be time to think about that when I’ve finished my cricket.”
He added: “I believed that I was good enough to score Test hundreds against Australia but it did take a while. My first two series were against arguably one of the best teams of all time.
“As a young player that was a real baptism. I learnt a lot from some great players. I’ve had to work really hard in this series. I have a lot for respect for this Australian bowling attack.
“It’s been enjoyable this time to score some hundreds and maybe put to bed some of the stuff I have done in their past.”
Unsurprisingly, too, Bell believes he is in the form of his life.
“It’s right up there,” he revealed. “I had a period against Sri Lanka and India in 2011 that felt pretty good but this is right up there for me in my career.”
One man who may perhaps be regretting some decisions previously is Australia national selector John Inverarity, who Bell concedes played a huge part in his development.
Speaking about his former coach at Warwickshire, Bell admitted: “(His influence was) massive, not just on my cricket but also lifestyle skills and getting me over to the University of Western Australia for six months.
“It was no coincidence I made my Test debut after I had that experience. He looked after me really well and was a good coach at Warwickshire.
“He’s a great thinker of the game and passed on some great knowledge to all of us.”
Bell’s efforts ultimately left England 202 ahead on 234 for five in their second innings after Ryan Harris had put Australia in a good position.
Having struck a 28 that helped the tourists to a 32-run lead, less than was expected at the start of the day, Harris left England 49 for three when ousting Joe Root, Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott.
The paceman ultimately ended the day on three wickets despite posing a continuous threat and has not given up on Australia’s chances yet.
“I wouldn’t say it’s slipped away,” he said. “Five for 200, virtually, we just need to get those wickets as early as we can in the morning and bat well.
“If we bat well and chase, hopefully, 250 to 300, the wicket is holding together pretty well. It might spin a little bit but the ball is going through nicely. I think it’s evenly poised to be honest.”
The highlight of Harris’ performance was the delivery that ousted Root; pitching on middle and off, it nipped away, beat the edge and castled the opener.
Questioned if he has ever sent down a better ball in this format, he replied: “Probably not, no. It was nice just to get a ball in the right spot … and he obviously missed it. I wouldn’t mind a few more of them.”
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